Article by Ruth Royall, Writer, Vocalist and Composer
Ruth Royall is an accomplished artist and is our guest contributor for today. you can find more by her online: the blog is currently up on her website if you’d like to take a look: State Of Flow
To create anything is a delicate process, it seems to have a mystical quality. You don’t always know where it comes from but it somehow appears in front of you. You become filled with this urge to express, to build and to release. Even those who aren’t used to this process find themselves filled with a sense of urgency to express themselves somehow.
For those of us who find ourselves in a position where creating is our profession, the process can sometimes become a burden, we can become sullen and feel we lose the childlike whim of simply creating whatever we feel like. Others find they are full to the brim with creativity all the time and express it through boujee get up, extravagant interior decor or they paint masterpieces on street corners.
Whatever your relationship is with creativity, it is part of all of us and in order to get the most out of it we must connect with it. I often get the feeling a song is nearby and I need to get into the studio to catch it, or else it will move on and someone else will write it.
State of Flow
This is a term I’ve been hearing a lot recently and I love it. I recently wrote a topline for Emba with the same title. It was all I could think about that week, and usually when something is on my mind it pops up in one of my songs. Apologies to anyone I’ve ever known, lived with, dated or hated. You are most definitely, how ever subtly, in there somewhere.
I’ve always thought of writing a song as a type of meditation. It’s cathartic, sure, but there’s a method to getting yourself into that state. Not every song can be about your lost love and the depths of sorrow to which you fell, sometimes you have to write a song about mobile phones for Huawei. It’s still music, it can still have meaning and you can still experience a state of flow while you are writing it.
So how do you know when you are there? When I tap into my state of flow, everything, well…flows… I make all the right noises and somehow words that work seem to pop out of nowhere. I personally need to hear music. I play a melody on repeat and just spout gibberish. This will often spark off a few ideas to get me going. I don’t worry about organising a song, that comes later. I also don’t worry about pinning down a story, again, that comes later. This is just about finding your flow. It feels like you are gradually getting the wheels of your mental steam train to start turning until they have picked up enough speed and are now gliding effortlessly into the middle eight.
The key to getting into a state of flow is not to force anything. Allow your mind to relax in the same way you would if you were practicing mindfulness. Be present and allow thoughts to come and go. This may take you longer at first but once you get the hang of recognising the feeling, you will become quicker at it.
So what do you do once you’ve got in the mood, so to speak…
Respect the word vomit!
Trust me, this is a very valid and much used technique among songwriters. Play the song and just say whatever. Literally whatever. Even if it’s ‘pafataa, ba ba, yuuh, ummmm’ seriously, it will get those wheels out the station.
We often get fixated on something being ‘perfect’ or ‘meaningful’ on our first try. We berate ourselves when we don’t nail it first time or become incredible shy and don’t want to share anything. I’ve now gone full tilt the other way. When in studio with Paper Dragon, they will often hear me chatting complete bollocks into a microphone with an incredibly earnest look on my face. I step confidently into production houses with people I’ve literally never met before and spout utter nonsense until I find the right starting point for the song; not to mention the insane sounding vocal warm ups. But hey! It works and I’m sure it’s pretty entertaining for everyone involved.
It’s important to let go of these little mental niggles. The little voices that tell us ‘that sounds stupid’, ‘you can’t do this’ or ‘not that word’. You need to leave those niggles at the door or there is always going to be something blocking your flow. Ok, that’s easier said than done for sure. But why not test it out?
Show someone you trust something you’ve made and see what their reaction is. Take it up a level and show them something really rough, then perform something in-front of them that isn’t finished. People love to hear things that are raw and as long as you make sure you do this with someone you trust and who supports you, you will gradually build your confidence and combat those little niggles. Next thing you know you’ll be marching into a rehearsal room singing ‘ting tang walla walla bing bang’ just to get those wheels turning. But baby steps are just fine.
You could also try writing a word list. When you are writing it’s hard to find a starting point sometimes and writing a list of words to help trigger the start of your flow or start off your word vomit is a helpful technique. It gives you something to focus on and stops you from stabbing in the dark and ending up with nothing. I often write words down in a note book or on my phone, sometimes I write whole paragraphs. This gives me something to refer back to when I sit down to write and helps me get into the flow.
We have so much noise going on that it’s often hard to make space for creativity. I find this a lot as I work from home and often notice the full washing basket watching me judgmentally when I’m mid-chorus.
There are two types of space, physical space and mental space. Having a dedicated physical space to create in, away from the washing basket’s judgmental eyes is incredibly helpful. It helps you to focus and also triggers your brain into the beginnings of your flow. Keeping that space clear, functional and personal is also important. Little things, like where you keep your notepad, do make a difference! It encourages you to make the creative process a habit.
Mental space is one that is harder to tidy up. We often bring thoughts into our creative spaces that we’d rather stick in the washing basket. There are a few methods I’ve picked up that have helped me with this.
Getting stuff out in order to let stuff in helps a lot. I’ve recently started the practice of doing ‘morning pages.’ I was introduced to the concept by my life coach Bex Baxter, she is a genius and is helping me tremendously on my own creative journey. The idea is you write three pages of whatever you like each morning to clear your head. Some days you end up coming to some useful conclusions but other days you just end up writing what you had for dinner the previous night. Both are perfectly valid. The process cleans up your brain ready for the day and helps you to flush out the mental tubes ready to start pumping those creative juices. You can read more about morning pages in ‘The Artist’s Way’.
Other ways to create mental space is by doing something physical. Leave the house to go for a walk, do a workout or do some yoga. It’s proven that physical activity can lower your stress levels and help you focus.
Creativity is holistic so you don’t just have to adopt these techniques when you physically sit down to create. You can include things in your day to day routine that will have a huge impact on freeing up your overall creativity. We could call it ‘a creative lifestyle’. I’m coining it.
One of the best ways to tip yourself into your state of flow is to listen to other art. It’s great to get inspired listening to what other people have created. It’s a very important part of the creative process with any band to find your inspirations and your references. Delve into why you love them, think about the details; it’s often there that you find the spark that will set you off on a little creative tangent. Sometimes you end up realizing you’ve just rewritten exactly the same song (this has happened to me on more than one occasion, I thought it was a masterpiece until I realized I’d just re-written a John Lennon song but had instead used the words ‘hey dude’, I jest…).
Even if this does happen, it’s still a creative process and you will have gained something from it. Not everything has to be a masterpiece, it’s OK to rewrite the Beatles sometimes, just keep it in your demos folder.
So in conclusion. State of flow is individual to you. However you choose to find it is up to you. I hope this has helped you to dig a little deeper and find ways to unleash your creativity onto the world.
If you have any questions then I’m always happy to chat over on my instagram. If you enjoyed this article, then feel free to share it.
You can check out some of my latest releases via my Spotify and feel free to follow me for for updates on @ruthroyallvocals and @paperdragonofficial
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